CBC's new series THIS LIFE, shot in Montreal, draws upon the city's own alternative graphic novel scene to inspire one character's emotional journey through art.
Romy is Natalie Lawson’s gifted thirteen-year-old daughter whose struggles adjusting to her new school and general incapacity to deal with her newfangled pressures manifests itself in the sublime drawings she works on in secret.
La fille d’horreur (French for Horror Girl) is the title of Romy’s comic story, which is about a young headless woman who’s trying to navigate through a world of “normals.” For example, one of the many evocative comic panels seen in episode four shows Romy’s headless character lifting her head with her outstretched arms in a movie theatre in order to catch a glimpse of a monstrous creature on the big screen.
As eerie as the subject matter may be, it’s Romy’s style that’s so eye-catching. A character on THIS LIFE describes her comic work as follows: “[It’s] like if Daniel Clowes and Brian K. Vaughan had a love child and let Harvey Pekar raise it.”
Joseph Kay, THIS LIFE’s Showrunner and Executive Producer, wanted to incorporate the aesthetic realism of Clowes with the eccentric tone of Pekar. Clowes is an American cartoonist and illustrator best known for his crude comic anthology Eightball and 1997’s down-to-earth comic pop-culture critique Ghost World. Whilst Pekar was the underground cartoonist behind the madly beautiful and autobiographical work, American Splendor. Romy’s images, sketched by Jasmin Simard, a gifted multi-disciplinary artist in his own right, with the support of Martin Gendron’s team in THIS LIFE’s art department, perfectly illustrate this blend of styles -- styles that evoke the published works of one Drawn & Quarterly.
D&Q is one of the most respected graphic novel publishing houses in the world, and it's located in Oliver and Maggie’s neighbourhood of Mile-End/Park Ex.
Looking at their slate of cartoonists and illustrators is like visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame of this creative craft. Kate Beaton, Chester Brown, Daniel Clowes, Julie Doucet, Joe Matt, Michel Rabagliati, Joe Sacco, James Sturm, Maurice Vellekoop, and more have released works under the D&Q banner.
On production sets everywhere there are a handful of unwritten rules or guidelines to work by. Arguably, the most crucial of these not-too-secret maxims is to steer clear of actors who are trying to remain “in the moment” or in concert with the emotions or moods of a scene to be shot. I, as a story coordinator, try to remain invisible but unfortunately for cast and crew, I’m also a rookie, a neophyte, a novice and therefore, and after forgetting my cloak of invisibility at home, I promptly proceeded to breaking “the rule.”
I remember sitting in the kitchen of Natalie’s fictional house, which is the primary set of THIS LIFE, back in August. The semi-detached house in NDG, a subject of another one of my blogs, leaves little room to tuck away and hide. Sitting next to me was Torri Higginson, star of THIS LIFE, who was almost-meditatively preparing for her next scene.
After the usual niceties any co-workers would share, we somehow started talking about Mile-End, and more specifically, Bernard Avenue, which is my favourite piece of real-estate in the entire 514. Why? It houses the city’s best cafe, most stocked vinyl shop and most inspiring indie bookstore, Librairie Drawn & Quarterly.
The store is just a small part of Drawn & Quarterly’s celebrated, ever-expanding enterprise. Publishers of North America’s best alternative comics and graphic novels since 1990, D&Q has launched or resurrected some of the best names in graphic art today.
A week after my conversation with Higginson, a force stronger than a Jedi’s mind delivered me in front of their store on Bernard. It’s unassuming and small, just under the size of a volleyball court. Vintage wooden table displays of mainstream fiction, non-fiction, children’s literature, poetry and biography dot one side of its creaky wooden floors, while D&Q’s original published works populate the other. Supplanted across one of its brick-blanketed walls is D&Q’s 25th anniversary anthology, which spans a whopping 800 full colour pages of its most popular works and never-before-seen treats.
Kay’s inspiration for Romy’s work, along with the artists behind La fille d’horreur sketches, are tied to the graphic novel revolution that D&Q helped create and foster in the early 2000’s.
Are there any other graphic works that remind you of Romy’s headless odyssey?
Catch more La fille d’horreur easter eggs in all new episodes of THIS LIFE on Monday -- 9pm -- on CBC Television.
I’m Max Morin, Story Coordinator and your official insider for all things THIS LIFE. Stay plugged-in to the blog -- we’ve got many more series insights to share!
Watch and learn more about the role of art on This Life: